- “We must not hide , …we have so much to give the world” Pope Francis admonishes Christian people to shake off pessimism, mistrust of modern reality, negativity and listlessness. Concluding the Year of Faith with his exhortation “The joy of the Gospel “ the Pope says “ with Christ joy is constantly born anew”
Pope Francis insists that things can be changed in our world. Jesus is risen, He is present, He is a vital power permeating the world and we are the instruments of the Lord and of that change.
The Pope does not deny that there is great evil and inequality in the world, there is poverty and exclusion, people are barely living, hearts are gripped by fear, violence, and corruption but the Pope notes “ each day in our world beauty is born anew”
Pope Francis’ exhortation is indeed an antidote for our spiritual life in South Africa. In a country which is 73% Christian we have to ask ourselves what impact does the Christian faith have on our families, on our business, on our politics, on our 70% of youth who are unemployed. Are we sure that the boos aimed at President Zuma are not aimed at the whole system prevailing in our country today.
“Life is better with Jesus”, Pope Francis writes; “ Our great danger is not that we might go astray but that we lock ourselves up with harsh rules.” Our loving relationship with Jesus must not be presented as a series of heartless demands or disjointed doctrines. We must show the world that which is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The essential is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus who died and rose again. “ Mercy–this is the greatest of all virtues”.
The parish, the Pope teaches, is the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”. It is an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. It is a community where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey.
Parishes must be where life is lived, they must touch the wounds of Christ in the suffering. Parish life must be involved in the concrete, practical real world of work, caring and mercy. Reality is greater than ideas., the Pope teaches. A real Christian spirituality is not a privatized lifestyle. Jesus must be brought out from the chapels and prayer groups to the streets, to the squares, to our workplace, on our journeys. But we must always present Him with respect and gentleness.
For Pope Francis closing our eyes to our neighbors also blinds us to God. Wherever we encounter another with love we learn something of God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other we grow in the light of faith in God. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness.
It is no use avoiding change saying; “We have always done it this way” No, Pope Francis responds, parishes need to rethink goals, styles, and methods. Go out “with an aggressive tenderness”, a sincere closeness and share the struggles of families, -“experience the smell of the sheep”. The door of the Church must always be open, there is no etoll, everyone is welcome. Without loving attention to the poor we can be left swamped in an ocean of words.
Mere administration is not enough. Priests must remember that confession is not a torture chamber but an encounter with God’s mercy. There will have to be a more incisive female presence in the Church and in settings where important decisions are made.
It is time to get started, says Pope Francis, Jesus is already here, waiting for us with open arms. “ No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord . It is time for us to arise and wake up the world.
Jan 1. 2014.